Cycle touring Scotland – Aviemore to the border

My arrival in Aviemore may have been heralded by soggy conditions, but the following morning was stellar. I woke early and rode the lovely trails of the Rothiemurchus for a while, drinking in my favourite forest. I’ve waxed lyrical (tried to) about this place before and you can still find a quiet spot early in the day to ‘listen to it breathe’.

Leaving the Rothiemurchus
Leaving the Rothiemurchus

I pointed the ECR south, now bent on a new plan I’d formulated over a potent and prodigious curry the previous night. Checking the weather carefully, it appeared the grim conditions to the west were now chasing me east and south. This system’s southerly course would last for the next week or so, with conditions filling in behind the front.

I would therefore try to keep ahead of it; enjoying relatively benign conditions while sewing together a route of bike paths and trails that would lead me ultimately to my front door. While the decision to leave Scotland saddened me a little, I’d had my fill of the weather and my trip now had a narrative.

With the forest full of birdsong, I headed south along NCN route 7 diverting onto fire road when the mood took me. I soon reached Kingussie which felt closed, more so Newtonmore.

The bike path to Pitlochry
The bike path to Pitlochry

I pushed on along the old A9 while the new road thundered by my side. To my right, rail enthusiasts enjoyed breakfast aboard a heritage train that matched my course and pace southwards. We exchanged cheery waves.

The road followed the course plotted by General Wade once more and dropped into Dalwhinnie – a malt whisky centre. Normally, I’d seek out a dram, but Dalwhinnie does little to excite my palette, a characteristic it shares with many-a-malt from these parts. Now if I were on Islay…

I reached the start of the bike path to Pitlochry, again on NCN Route 7. Signs warned me of the threat of wild weather on the pass of Drumochter, but conditions were kind today. The ride followed a great trail, dropping into small burn-filled valleys that helped to shroud the proximity of the road. My wild surroundings soon softened and I hit Blair Atholl where I stopped for soup and cake at the excellent Watermill Tea Room and, again, was stared at by tartan-hunting tourists.

Pitlochry soon appeared and I watched fly anglers work the River Tummel from the footbridge while fish jumped below my feet. After the town, the route followed undulating lanes and soon met the impressive River Tay which I crossed at Balnamuir and joined NCN Route 77.

The River Tummel at Pitlochry
The River Tummel at Pitlochry

Pretty Strath Tay to Dunkeld rolled under my wheels and, staying on Route 77, I pedalled quiet lanes to the outskirts of Perth where a pleasant riverside path delivered me to messy roads choked with impatient motorists.

I sighed and headed north on the other side of the river to the racecourse and pleasant camping for the night. I’d ridden just shy of 100 miles.

I slept heavily and shared conversation over breakfast with a motorcyclist from the Czech Republic. He had friends in Greater Manchester and I helped with regional-corrected pronunciations of place names he knew – ‘Orich’ not Hor-wich! He enjoyed this perhaps a little too much.

The day turned out to be a transitional stage. I followed Route 775 through rather bland country; gloomy Kinross barely registered in my consciousness before I joined Route 1 to Dumfernline. The day was saved somewhat by pedalling over the Forth Road Bridge. To my left the simply fantastic rail bridge, to my right the new road crossing. The scale of this massive engineering was both exhilarating and overpowering in equal measure.

The magnificent Forth Rail Bridge
The magnificent Forth Rail Bridge
The new Forth Road Bridge
The new Forth Road Bridge

Route 1 then plotted a confusing course through Edinburgh. Pretty as this city is, I didn’t delay and was soon escaping its clutches and wondering where to stay. After rather too much to-ing and fro-ing, I found a place to camp at Dalkeith. By luck rather than judgement, I had the great pleasure of eating at the nearby Sun Inn. I’m pleased they allowed me to dine in my shorts as this turned out to best meal I’d had in a long time. A very talented brigade work that kitchen and I recommend it highly if you ever find yourself in these parts.

The morning dawned bright and I felt strong after my substantial feast the previous evening. Slightly frustrated by yesterday’s haphazard navigation, I retraced my tyre marks and headed east along Route 196. This proved a good move as it led to the Pencaitland trail, a former railway bed that offered lovely, unhurried riding.

Joining the Pencaitland Trail NCN Route 196
Joining the Pencaitland Trail NCN Route 196

Lost in my thoughts, my crankset then started to creak. I stopped to inspect it and found a chainring bolt spinning, the outer having cracked. Bizarre. Fortunately, Mikes Bikes in Haddington came to the rescue: a top guy and a very nice (and busy) independent bike shop. Haddington residents, you are lucky to have such a thing.

Mikes Bikes came to my rescue
Mikes Bikes came to my rescue

I left the town heading east again and to the coast. Route 75 provides easy passage through these parts and I soon reached Dunbar on the Scotland Golf Coast (geddit?!) where I stopped for cake. This was no ordinary cake, though. My entrée of scone and cream was followed by a warmed muffin in a cup with cream, Nutella and a white chocolate spoon for good measure. These delights are available at Graze Coffee and Chocolate House. Again, it comes highly recommended.

Muffin, cream, Nutella, white chocolate spoon - what's not to like?
Muffin, cream, Nutella, white chocolate spoon – what’s not to like?

From Dunbar, the route hugged the coast for a while and the A1 before cutting across a small headland to Eyemouth. Now on Route 76, I followed pretty quiet lanes only stopping at the border for a photograph. Now the route sparked memories of my coast to coast ride some years back and I dropped into Berwick on Tweed in search of a room for the night.

Sights from Route 75
Sights from Route 75
NCN Route 75 near Dunbar
NCN Route 75 near Dunbar
Crossing the Border
Crossing the Border
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